Ecoregions of Madagascar

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Satellite image of Madagascar

Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world. Its long isolation from neighbouring continents allowed the evolution of distinct communities of plants and animals. It is home to five percent of the world's plant and animal species, 80 percent of which are endemic to Madagascar. Some biogeographers refer to the island as the "eighth continent", in recognition of its uniqueness and diversity.

Overview[edit]

Madagascar and neighboring Indian Ocean islands form a distinctive sub-region of the Afrotropic ecozone in biogeography, which botanist Armen Takhtajan called the Madagascan Region. In phytogeography it is the floristic phytochorion Madagascan Subkingdom in the Paleotropical Kingdom. The region is chara north-south along the spine of the island. The Eastern region also includes humid pockets further westward, including Sambirano and Isalo. The Flore sous le vent (leeward flora), now called the Région de l'Ouest (Western Region), lies in the rain shadow of the central highlands. It includes the drier western and southern portions of the Island, as well as the island's northern tip.

The Eastern and Western regions can be further subdivided into seven terrestrial ecoregions. The Eastern region includes two tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregions, the Madagascar lowland forests along the eastern coastal strip, and the Madagascar subhumid forests which occupies the highlands above 600–800 meters elevation. At the highest elevations, above 2000 meters, the subhumid forests transition to the Madagascar ericoid thickets, a montane grasslands and shrublands ecoregion.

The Madagascar dry deciduous forests, in the tropical southwest, and the drier Madagascar spiny thickets occupies the southernmost region of the island.

Endemism and extinction[edit]

Eight flowering plant families are endemic to Madagascar: Asteropeiaceae, Didymelaceae, Didiereaceae, Kaliphoraceae, Melanophyllaceae, Physenaceae, Sarcolaenaceae, and Sphaerosepalaceae. The Seychelles have one endemic plant family, Mesdusagynaceae, and family Psiloxylaceae is endemic to the Macarene Islands.

Before the arrival of humans, Madagascar was home to six lineages of mammals: lemurs, endemic carnivores, a pygmy hippopotamus, tenrecs, rodents, and bats. The lemurs are thought to be descended from a common ancestor, which crossed to Madagascar over 62 million years ago. Bones of extinct giant lemurs, as large as a gorilla, have been found on the island. Recent DNA evidence suggests that Madagascar's eight endemic carnivores, including the Malagasy "mongooses" (Galidia, Galidictis, Mungotictus, and Salanoia), fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), Falanouc (Eupleres goudotii), and Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana), are descended from a single ancestor which crossed from Africa to Madagascar 18-24 million years ago.

17 species of lemurs, including the giant lemur, together with giant tortoises, the pygmy hippopotamus, and the elephant bird, an enormous flightless bird related to the ostrich, became extinct after the arrival of the human settlers approximately 2000 years ago.

The other islands of the Madagascan region also suffered from waves of extinctions as a result of human arrival on the islands. Numerous bird species, including the famous Dodo of Mauritius, became extinct after human settlers arrived. Most of the islands also had one or more species of giant tortoise before humans arrived; 19 of 20 giant tortoise species are presently extinct, and only the Aldabra Giant Tortoise still survives.

See also[edit]